May 2021 edition: Understanding our Place in Nature - The Potential Impact of Environmental Education

Understanding our Place in Nature - The Potential Impact of Environmental Education

The Dasgupta Review, an independent review into The Economics of Biodiversity commissioned by the HM Treasury, was published on 2nd February 2021.

The Dasguta Review calls for changes in how we think, act and measure economic success to protect and enhance our prosperity and the natural world, including ‘collective and sustained action to transform the systems that underpin our engagements with Nature, above all our financial and education systems.' [1]

Schools and colleges can act as ‘levellers’ to enable all young people to have a minimum level of nature experience, when the opportunities and encouragement they get at home may differ enormously.

Matt Larsen-Daw

Education is clearly flagged as a key driver of the changes in society - the Review suggests it is vital for overcoming the environmental crisis and achieving a green economy. The key points it makes are:

1) That connection to nature needs to be nurtured in education (all the way through).

2) That the workings of the natural world should be understood by all – and therefore that every child should receive an education in natural history.

The Review also notes the potential for schools to have real-world impact.

‘… environmental education programmes can help to achieve tangible impact, for example by focusing on local issues, and collaborating with scientists and community organisations.’ [1]

This political interest in the potential role of education opens up a window of opportunity for those in the field of environmental education to highlight the tools and methodologies that can bring the right changes in the right way.

Firstly, nature education should include nature experience. If the aim is for young people to understand our place in nature, they must feel it. Schools and colleges can act as ‘levellers’ to enable all young people to have a minimum level of nature experience, when the opportunities and encouragement they get at home may differ enormously. The challenges that most schools face in doing this lie in resource and capacity. There might be costs and staff time associated with facilitating safe nature experiences, outdoor learning opportunities, or wildlife-friendly school grounds. With stretched staff and tight budgets it can be difficult for schools to justify this allocation of resource if nature experience is not recognised in the schools inspection framework, and if ring-fenced funding and official guidance is not provided.

The Forest School Association’s Nature Premium campaign is a timely response to this need, recognising that schools and colleges will have different barriers to overcome in order to bring nature into school life for students, depending on their facilities, location and the level of support for such provision from parents. A premium applied per pupil would allow schools to come up with a bespoke plan of action to ensure that each student has opportunities for positive first-hand nature experiences in a safe, supported and social environment.

Secondly, schools can and should provide opportunities for this understanding of our place in the natural system to be applied in a real-world context. Schools exist as components of society and are uniquely placed to act as conveners, mobilisers and coordinators of local action for nature and sustainability. In WWF’s free teacher training course Education for a Sustainable Planet the core components of a whole school approach to sustainability are laid out as the ‘4 Cs’: Culture, Curriculum, Campus and Community. There is no more powerful way to learn the importance of nature and sustainability, and to gain confidence in applying that learning in life, than seeing it in action and being involved in the process of identifying and implementing positive changes.

The Let’s Go Zero campaign responds to this opportunity by calling for schools to come together, with government support, and take their place in the vanguard of the net zero revolution. This provides an opportunity for young people to leave school with a sense of what is possible and how to achieve it – while ensuring schools make a meaningful contribution to achieving national carbon reduction targets.

Political, financial and data literacy must go hand in hand with environmental literacy as part of true systems-thinking around the processes that lead to a healthy world and a thriving economy. The Bank of England offers virtual and physical visits to schools to help boost understanding of the economy, and MPs are often receptive to requests from schools to discuss local issues and their role in the political system.

For secondary schools and colleges the whole school approach should perhaps comprise 5 Cs, with the addition of Careers. Young people should look towards their future with a clear sense of how they can apply their sustainable values and nature literacy in their choice of, and approach to, career pathways. Awareness of nature-orientated career options is important, but ultimately all of society needs to shift to achieve a green economy, so students should be supported to consider how all careers in all sectors can be approached and shaped around sustainable values.


References

[1] The Dasgupta Review, Review Headlines